Columbia chorus composes musical celebration for Dvorak


FOR FRANCES Motyca Dawson, director of the Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus, Antonin Dvorak is a composer to be celebrated any time for his inventive musical ideas, simple and open style, skillful use of ethnic melodies and the Czech composer's interest in America.

But when his 150th birthday rolls around, as it did yesterday, and you have Czech blood in your veins and you think people may need a break from the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, Dvorak is someone who deserves special attention.

So this coming weekend, Dawson will go all out in directing a three-day birthday party of music and talk for Dvorak (1841-1904), the man who led the National Conservatory in New York from 1892 to 1895, loved his few summers in Iowa, admired black American music and composed far more music than his famous "New World" symphony and Slavonic dances.

For Dvorak fans, the weekend contains one of the most intensive Dvorak celebrations anywhere this year. His influence, compositional ideas and forms, forward-looking themes, positive outlook and lesser-known sides will be examined and played.

"Like other Czech composers, Dvorak composed much music that has still to be played or recorded in America," said Dawson. Her grandparents on her father's side were Czech and she has become known for championing Czech (and other less familiar) music in her 14 seasons since founding the respected Columbia chorus in 1977.

Some of the rarely heard music will be sung Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Washington at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, opening night of the Dvorak festival, which ends at 3 p.m. Sunday at the National City Christian Church, where the 115-voice chorus sings the also less-familiar Dvorak Requiem.

A feast of Greek songs, love songs and Moravian duets will be offered Friday alongside two familiar pieces, "Songs My Mother Taught Me" and "Humoresque No. 6." There will also be gypsy songs, Slovak folk songs and Slavonic dances.

The singers will be four soloists, including bass Richard Zeller, the 1991 Baltimore Opera Company's vocal competition winner.

Others are mezzo Marianna Busching, a new voice faculty member at Peabody; Grayson Hirst, a tenor who has sung with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and sings 70 operatic roles, and opera soprano Eleanor Bergquist. Duo pianists with Peabody ties are Dai Uk Lee and Yong Hi Moon.

For a 1:30 p.m. Saturday Kennedy Center symposium entitled "Dvorak in the New World," Dawson has assembled six leading Dvorak or Czech experts including Thomas Riis, speaking on "Dvorak and his Black Students."

"Dvorak paid attention to his gifted black students at the New York Conservatory, such as Will Marion Cook and Harry T. Burleigh," Dawson said. "From his own Czech roots, he felt folk melodies should become national music. He stirred controversy, saying black musical tradition is the basis for national music here."

Other speakers are Joseph Skvorecky, author of "The Engineer of Human Souls" and "Dvorak in Love," speaking on the composer in America; Josephine Love, speaking on "The Notable Afro-American Musician of the Late 19th Century"; Barbara Renton, on "Dvorak in the Czech Communities in America" and Maurice Peress, on the composer's impact here.

The weekend's climax is the complete performance of the Requiem with Latin text at the National City church at Thomas Circle. Dawson directs the chorus, MusicCrafters Orchestra and Friday's four soloists. CPC did the moving work twice before, in 1982 and 1986.

"Czech people have a culture that has been suppressed for so long," Dawson said. "They were dominated by others from 1618 to 1918 and from 1945 to 1989. These are the people that appreciated Mozart when Vienna didn't.

"They have an enduring culture often unknown to Americans. We're making one small contribution to showing what emerged from under the Austro-Hungarian Empire."

Tickets for the Friday night performance are $18.50. Call Kennedy Center Instant Charge (202) 467-4600. Tickets for the symposium are $6, but admission is free by showing a Requiem ticket. Requiem tickets are $16 and $10 at the door. Call (301) 465-5744 for more information.

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